1. The Met on the mat

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International Relations

A new culture of ethics, not deterrent punishments alone, can transform the conduct of the police

The Metropolitan Police of London are in the news for the wrong reasons. The gruesome murder of a teacher, Sabina Nessa (28), when she was walking through a park in south-east London to meet her friend at a pub, has caused outrage. The police have been accused of negligence yet again. An Albanian garage worker has been held as a suspect.

Diminishing trust in the police

According to the media, since the death of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, in March this year, at least 81 women have been killed in the U.K. where the suspects are men. Many critics bemoan the fact that women are not being protected despite the Met being led by a woman Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick.

What has added fuel to the fire is that a Met police officer, Wayne Couzens, was arrested for raping and murdering Everard. Couzens falsely arrested Everard on the charge of violating COVID-19 restrictions, forced her into a hired car, drove far away, raped her, strangled her and then burnt the body. Couzens had planned his barbaric crime for several weeks. Everard was a random target — a lone young woman negotiating a poorly lit area. It is appalling that despite being linked to two previous allegations of indecent exposure, Couzens had gone unpunished. This was culpable indifference on the part of senior officers. It is difficult to believe that this despicable behaviour had not been escalated to more senior officers.

One is reminded of the senseless deaths of a father and son in Sattankulam in Tamil Nadu. They were arrested allegedly for keeping their shop open and thus violating lockdown restrictions. They later died in hospital, after being tortured by the police in custody. The police in the U.S. have a similar inglorious record. One cannot forget how in May 2020, a black man, George Floyd, was pinned to the ground by three police officers in Minneapolis until he died of suffocation. His crime was that he had bought cigarettes with a counterfeit bill at a convenience store.

Two points emerge from these and other episodes, some of which are reported and many of which are buried stealthily. Police organisations in several parts of the world are not trusted for civilised and lawful behaviour. This is despite the many mechanisms that are in place that do not permit clandestine police actions against crime suspects. The numerous controls that have been established have not had the desired effect.

A few unscrupulous and overzealous policemen are responsible for this sorry situation. Blame sometimes also lies at the door of a few in the political executive who misuse their authority to settle personal scores with their adversaries. The judiciary has tried to set right this distortion in the criminal justice system, but success has been marginal. The Chief Justice of India recently gave expression to his misgivings on police conduct. But deterrent punishments are not the answer; only a new culture of ethics can bring about visible transformation. Bringing about such a change will take decades and requires enlightened police as well as political leadership. Merely upgrading police technology, such as compulsory body cameras on patrol policemen and video recording of police station proceedings, without a corresponding change in mindset will not be enough.

Perhaps most painful is the popular impression that women are easy prey to marauding policemen. It is unfortunate that the whole force gets a bad name because of a few deviants such as the senior officer in Tamil Nadu who is facing trial for sexual harassment of a female colleague. This is no justification, however, for showing any latitude to the police leadership or police officers.

A possible example for all chiefs

Met Commissioner Dick is a doughty warrior. She is the first woman to occupy this position. It is a travesty that a force headed by a distinguished woman officer is being accused of gender insensitivity. She has been facing calls to resign ever since the murder of Everard. But she has never shown inclination to step down. She apologised for the Met’s failure in recognising the danger posed by Couzens and said she would do everything in her power to ensure that the force has learned from “one of the most dreadful events” in its history. Her resolve to make London safer is impressive and could set an example for police chiefs everywhere.

Many good choices have been made in several Indian cities. Commissioners are being credited with striking innovations in the area of response to distress calls from the public, especially women and the elderly. The pursuit of speed and professionalism in this regard is a never-ending challenge. Enormous government funding for additional infrastructure — both manpower and technology — can help shape a sleek and humane police force. But only marginally.

Source: The Hindu

2. Crackdown in China, hope in India

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International Relations

China’s sweeping overhaul of its tech sector could benefit India in the near future

Last year, China stopped Ant Group’s blockbuster initial public offering. This came as a shock to the world as Ant Group, Alibaba’s fintech arm, was on track to raise $37 billion and its valuation was reportedly nearing more than $300 billion. This episode was perceived as an attempt to rein in the successful entrepreneur, Jack Ma. Prior to this incident, he had committed one of the cardinal sins in modern China, which was to publicly criticise the government’s tech policy for stifling innovation.

Clampdowns galore

A year since, hardly a week goes by without the world hearing of yet another high-profile crackdown on a Chinese tech company. China has foisted sweeping regulations, antitrust and anti-monopoly lawsuits, cyber security probes, and algorithm controls on the entire tech segment, ranging from e-commerce websites, search engines, ride sharing and food delivery apps to e-learning portals. These clampdowns are estimated to have wiped off over $1.5 trillion of value from Chinese tech stocks.

China’s obsessive efforts to ensure that no private entity gains enough data to ever be in a position to even remotely challenge Chinese Communist Party-led state dominance, and that no competing country gains access to the citizen database through any unforeseen means, drive much of this overhaul.

We should not overlook the fact that these efforts are limited only to the consumer tech sector. State support to manufacturing and ‘hard’ tech industries, which are perceived to be of higher value, including 5G/6G, semiconductor chips, artificial intelligence, biotechnologies, batteries, aviation and space tech, has only increased.

We are witnessing a conscious redirection of efforts to areas that would maximise China’s geopolitical and geo-economic gains. It would not be surprising to see more state-owned enterprises like ZTE and state-supported heavyweights like Huawei focus on strategic high technology and attempt to be pioneers in the global market.

These developments could be beneficial for India. The rate of digitisation accelerated during the pandemic in India. Start-ups here raised a record $10.46 billion in the first half of this year alone. India’s tally of unicorns has crossed 60. This trajectory and India’s projected growth will make the country the first destination of the funds fleeing Chinese stocks during these crackdowns. However, mirroring the U.S. start-up ecosystem, India’s emphasis too is on consumer tech, from which China is tactically distancing itself. Not to be forgotten, the U.S. also has a far-reaching system for research and development of strategic technology.

The recently concluded Modi-Biden talks as well as the Quad summit emphasised technological cooperation. The U.S. undoubtedly remains China’s lone rival in the high tech space, and the extent of this partnership will be important for India. U.S. interests will more likely be inclined towards the possibilities of market entry and penetration of its firms. India should strive to move beyond this to complementary collaborations.

Open to partnerships

India should also remain open to partnerships with friendly nations, keeping the enhancement of its internal capacity as the objective. An example would be the ongoing talks with Taiwan to bring in a semiconductor chip manufacturing plant to India. If successful, this could drive next-generation industries, including 5G devices and electric vehicles.

The strides India has made in sectors including biotech and space tech have shown that with the right political will and private participation, India could be self-sufficient and also reach global competitiveness. Similar concerted efforts to develop indigenous manufacturing and hard technology are vital if India is to retain its strategic autonomy and securely reach its stated goal of being among the largest three economies by the later stages of this decade.

Source: The Hindu

3. First Nobel for climate science

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

Nobel Prize in Physics: Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Georgio Parisi (Source: Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Prize Outreach)

In 2015, Carbon Brief, a UK-based climate-focused online publication, asked the main authors of the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to identify the three most influential climate change research papers ever published. The paper that received the most votes was one by Syukuro Manabe and Richard Wetherald way back in 1967, that, for the first time, had described the impact of carbon dioxide and water vapour on global warming.

The influence of Manabe, now 90, on climate science and its practitioners has been unparalleled. On Tuesday, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics (Wetherland died in 2011). Manabe shared one half of the prize with Klaus Hasselmann, another climate scientist, while the other half went to Georgio Parisi for his contributions in advancing the understanding of complex systems . These are systems with a very high degree of randomness; weather and climate phenomena are examples of complex systems. The Nobel Prize Committee said the Physics Prize this year was given for “groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex systems”.

First recognition

This is the first time climate scientists have been awarded the Physics Nobel. The IPCC had won the Peace Nobel in 2007, an acknowledgement of its efforts in creating awareness for the fight against climate change, while a Chemistry Nobel to Paul Crutzen in 1995, for his work on the ozone layer, is considered the only other time someone from atmospheric sciences has won this honour.

The recognition of Manabe and Hasselmann, therefore, is being seen as an acknowledgment of the importance that climate science holds in today’s world.

“That 1967 paper was seminal work. It was the first description of the processes of global warming. Manabe and Wetherland also created a climate model for the first time. The sophisticated models that we run today, which are so crucial to climate science, trace their ancestry to that model created by Manabe. He was a pioneer in so many ways, and the father of climate modelling,” said R Krishnan, director of Centre of Climate Change Research at Pune’s Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.

Krishnan had worked with Manabe at the Frontier Research Centre for Global Change in Japan in the late 1990s. Manabe, a Japanese, spent most of his career at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University in the United States.

“He did not have the Nobel Prize then, but was a towering influence nonetheless. He, and others, had considerably improved the climate models by that time. Manabe was also instrumental in developing the first coupled model, in which ocean and atmospheric interactions are modelled together, in the 1970s. I remember in a couple of conversations, Manabe also spoke about Hasselmann’s work with a lot of appreciation,” Krishnan said.

Hasselmann, a German, who too is now 90, is an oceanographer who ventured into climate science. He is best known for his work on identifying specific signatures, or “fingerprints” as the Nobel committee called them, in the climate phenomena that enabled scientists to ascertain whether these were caused by natural processes or human activities.

“Hasselmann enabled the field of attribution science. In the 1990s, and even in the early 2000s, there was a lot of debate over the cause of global warming – whether these were being driven by human activities, or were part of natural variability. Even the scientific world was divided. The second or third assessment reports of IPCC were very circumspect in blaming human activities for rising temperatures. Hasselmann’s work on identifying these fingerprints has all but closed that debate now. If you look at the IPCC’s sixth assessment report which came out earlier this year, it is unequivocal in saying that climate change is occurring because of human activities,” said Bala Govindasamy, a professor at the Centre for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, and one of the contributors to the sixth assessment report. Govindasamy has worked with Manabe at the laboratory in Princeton University.

Manabe and Hasselmann too have been authors of previous IPCC reports. Both of them contributed to the first and third assessment reports, while Hasselmann was an author in the second assessment report as well.

“As public awareness of climate change grows, it is encouraging to see the Nobel Physics Prize recognising the work of scientists who have contributed so much to our understanding of climate change, including two IPCC authors — Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann,” the IPCC said in a statement.

Mainstreaming climate science

Several scientists said that the delayed recognition to climate science couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.

“Climate change is the biggest crisis facing the world, and the humanity, today. Unfortunately, there still are some people, and governments, that are not convinced of the reality, although that is changing quickly. Apart from the fact that the recognition of Manabe and Hasselmann is richly deserved and long awaited, this Nobel Prize will, hopefully, also help in more people believing in climate science,” said M Rajeevan, former Secretary in the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

Krishnan said that until very recently, climate science was not considered important even in scientific circles. “Perhaps that was because our weather forecasts were not very accurate. Not everyone appreciated the fact that this science itself was uncertain and chaotic. Climate science never had the aura of particle physics or string theory, for example. But that perception is changing now. Weather forecasts have become far more accurate, the evidence on climate change have been compelling, thanks to the works of scientists like Manabe and Hasselmann. This Nobel Prize would probably help in further mainstreaming of climate science,” he said.

Source: The Indian Express

4. The anti-defection law, and how it has often failed to discourage defection

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

The Calcutta High Court has given West Bengal Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee a deadline of Thursday, October 7 to pass an order in the defection case involving MLA Mukul Roy. He had contested and won the 2021 Assembly elections on a BJP ticket and then joined the Trinamool Congress. BJP MLA Suvendu Adhikari, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, has petitioned the Speaker to disqualify Roy and two other BJP MLAs for joining the Trinamool Congress. These petitions are under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, i.e. the anti-defection law.

Anti-defection proceedings are also going on in other states. In Jharkhand, former CM Babulal Marandi faces such proceedings after merging his party, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik), with the BJP. In Rajasthan, six Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MLAs have merged their legislature party with the ruling Congress, a move challenged by the BSP, and the Supreme Court recently gave the six MLAs a final opportunity to explain the merger. In

Lok Sabha, two Trinamool and one YSR Congress Party MPs face proceedings. The Trinamool Congress wants to disqualify its two MPs (one of them is Sisir Adhikari, father of Suvendu) for joining the BJP, and the YSRCP wants to disqualify its MP for “anti-party activities”.

What is the anti-defection law, and what is its purpose?

The anti-defection law punishes individual MPs/MLAs for leaving one party for another. It allows a group of MP/MLAs to join (i.e. merge with) another political party without inviting the penalty for defection. And it does not penalise political parties for encouraging or accepting defecting legislators. Parliament added it to the Constitution as the Tenth Schedule in 1985. Its purpose was to bring stability to governments by discouraging legislators from changing parties. It was a response to the toppling of multiple state governments by party-hopping MLAs after the general elections of 1967.

What constitutes defection? Who is the deciding authority?

The law covers three kinds of scenarios. One is when legislators elected on the ticket of one political party “voluntarily give up” membership of that party or vote in the legislature against the party’s wishes. A legislator’s speech and conduct inside and outside the legislature can lead to deciding the voluntarily giving up membership.

The second scenario arises when an MP/MLA who has been elected as an independent joins a party later. The third scenario relates to nominated legislators. In their case, the law specifies that they can join a political party within six months of being appointed to the House, and not after such time.

Violation of the law in any of these scenarios can lead to a legislator being penalised for defection. The Presiding Officers of the Legislature (Speaker, Chairman) are the deciding authorities in such cases. The Supreme Court has held legislators can challenge their decisions before the higher judiciary.

How long does it take for deciding cases of defection?

The law does not provide a time-frame within which the presiding officer has to decide a defection case. There have been many instances when a Speaker has not determined the case of a defecting MLA until the end of the legislature term. There have also been instances of defecting MLAs becoming ministers while a defection petition against them has been pending before the Speaker. Last year, the Supreme Court dismissed a minister in Manipur when the Speaker did not decide the defection petition against him even after three years. The court held that ideally, Speakers should take a decision on a defection petition within three months.

Has the anti-defection law ensured the stability of governments?

No. Parties often have to sequester MLAs in resorts to prevent them from changing their allegiance or getting poached by a rival party or an opposing faction of their party. Recent examples are Rajasthan (2020), Maharashtra (2019), Karnataka (2019 and 2018), and Tamil Nadu (2017).

Parties have also been able to use the anti-defection law to their advantage. In 2019 in Goa, 10 of the 15 Congress MLAs merged their legislature party with the BJP. In the same year, in Rajasthan, six BSP MLAs merged their party with the Congress (the case being heard in the Supreme Court), and in Sikkim, 10 of the 15 MLAs of the Sikkim Democratic Front have joined the BJP.

Have any suggestions been made to improve the law?

Some commentators have said the law has failed and recommended its removal. Former Vice President Hamid Ansari has suggested that it apply only to save governments in no-confidence motions. The Election Commission has suggested it should be the deciding authority in defection cases. Others have argued that the President and Governors should hear defection petitions. And last year, the Supreme Court said Parliament should set up an independent tribunal headed by a retired judge of the higher judiciary to decide defection cases swiftly and impartially.

Source: The Indian Express

5. What caused the WhatsApp, Instagram outage?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

Social media sites Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram outage: Social media giant Facebook and its family of apps WhatsApp and Instagram were inaccessible to billions of users for around six hours Monday, in what was one of the longest outages for Facebook at a group level. While there were speculations of a cyberattack on Facebook’s systems, the company has said it was a configuration error that led to the disruption.

So, what happened?

Shortly after 9 pm IST on Monday, Facebook’s services including WhatsApp, Instagram and Oculus VR went down and did not come up till early morning on Tuesday. The outage affected users across the globe, and according to some reports, even impacted Facebook employees as the company’s internal systems were affected, preventing the staff from accessing internal e-mail clients, etc.

Did Facebook identify the cause for this problem?

In a blog post, Facebook noted its engineering teams found that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between the company’s data centers caused issues that interrupted this communication. “This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt,” it added. In simple terms, Facebook’s machines stopped communicating with each other because of what is called a DNS (domain name system) error.

Explaining a DNS error, Lotem Finkelstenn, Head of Threat Intelligence at Check Point Software Technologies said: “Simply, it is the internet protocol to convert the words we use like Facebook.com to language computers know — numbers, or internet address. They do the conversion and route us to the services and applications we asked to use. When this service falls, the services look like they are down, but actually just not accessible.”

Could this have been a cyberattack?

Facebook wrote in its blog: “We want to make clear at this time we believe the root cause of this outage was a faulty configuration change. We also have no evidence that user data was compromised as a result of this downtime”. According to the New York Times, which cited two anonymous Facebook security team members, the outage was not likely a result of a cyberattack because the technology behind the apps was still different enough that one hack was not likely to affect all of them at once.

Has Facebook suffered outages before as well?

Yes, the Facebook family of apps suffered a major outage earlier this year in March as well when the services were down for almost 45 minutes. Prior to this, in 2020 alone, four major WhatsApp outages had occurred, of which the most major one was in January, which had lasted for around three hours. After this, there was one in April, followed by a two-hour outage in July and a brief one in August. In 2019, Facebook suffered its longest outage ever when the social media service was down for nearly 24 hours.

What is the significance of these outages?

There has been a increase in internet outages in recent years. According to data from ThousandEyes, a network-monitoring service owned by Cisco Systems Inc, there were 367 global internet outages in the week ending September 26, making it the third consecutive week of increasing outages. Even as the internet was originally conceptualised as a decentralised network, experts believe that a handful of infrastructure companies like Akamai, Fastly, Amazon Web Services have become concentrated centres providing their services to major internet platforms. This, especially after thousands of enterprises — both small and large — are increasing their digitisation efforts after the pandemic.

Source: The Indian Express